Those of you who have read the “About” me section on this blog will know that my father was Polish. Although I didn’t visit Poland until I was an adult, and don’t speak the language, I do feel a great attachment to Poland. So, the fact that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival in New Zealand of Polish refugee children is of great interest to me. As part of this commemoration, a two day event, “Celebrating Everything Polish”, is being held here in Wellington.
The 733 Polish children and their 102 caregivers who arrived here, were some of the many Poles who ended up in Iran after being forced to leave Poland during World War 2. They had been deported from Eastern Poland to Siberia, and when they were allowed to leave in 1941, most of them ended up in Iran. The hundreds that ended up in New Zealand did so thanks to Maria Wodzicka, wife of the Polish Consul in New Zealand. She visited a ship carrying Polish children to Mexico that had docked in Wellington, and proposed the idea of bringing children here to Janet Fraser, wife of Peter Fraser, New Zealand’s Prime Minister at the time. As a result, the New Zealand Government invited as temporary guests, the refugee children.
On arrival, the children were taken by train to the Polish Children’s Camp in Pahiatua. They were greeted along the way by crowds of local people, and volunteer groups decorated the camp with flowers and prepared food. I can only imagine what that must have been like….strange tastes, strange food and a strange country all at once. It was originally hoped that the children would return after the war, so initially all schooling and administration was carried out in Polish. Of course, they were not able to, and stayed here in New Zealand, forming the foundations of the Polish community here in New Zealand.
So today we went along to see what was happening outside and in the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. Well, I had to buy some poppy seed cake and eat some pierogi, two food things that just make me think of Poland.
There was a small exhibition of photographs of the children arriving and being in the camp in the museum as well, one of which you can see in the photograph of a post card above.
You can read more here about the Polish Children of Pahiatua.